When my wife proposed writing a novel together last year, I was initially resistant but not for the most obvious reasons. I wasn’t worried about our ability to work together. I wasn’t even worried about whether we could actually produce a good novel. We had decades of writing experience between us, mostly as reporters for small and mid-sized newspapers around the world. We had a wall full of awards saying we knew how to write.
What I was afraid of was the isolation I associated with writing long fiction pieces. I am one of an unusual breed: a writer who also is an extrovert. I’m happy to say, as our first full-length novel The Time Slip Girl hits retailers, that we wrote it without locking ourselves away in an ivory tower for months on end. And it’s all because of modern technology, which has changed the writing experience for the better, especially for extroverts, like me.
Yes, writing is still for introverts, like my wife, like many writers I know and love—but modern technology means it can be for extroverts as well.
I’m writing this essay on an iPhone 6 on a Chicago bus heading home from work. It’s jerky and bumpy. I keep hitting the wrong key. I have to go back and correct typos all the time, but I’m still doing some of the best writing I have ever done in my life. Autocorrect can be your friend, if you want it to be.
While my wife worked on our novel mostly at home, alone, or in a local coffee shop, because that’s her style, I worked on it on my phone during my downtime while volunteering at an HIV testing outreach event at Chicago’s Center on Halsted. I wrote it while sunning myself on the beach. I wrote it any time I could get a few noisy minutes, mostly on my phone but occasionally on my iPad. Sometimes I even wrote on my laptop at home but not often. That just wasn’t as much fun.
Yes, I produced thousands of beautiful words writing in public.
There are some painters who, like writers, work from inspiration and memory. There are others, like me, who produce their best work when someone is right in front of them.
For example, right now on the bus sitting across from me is an older woman with short grey hair and shiny stud earrings who might fit into our next novel. She’s fondling a hot pink MP3 player like it’s a precious jewel, and her earphone cord keeps getting tangled in the strap of her purse. I imagine that she is heading to a coffee shop to rendezvous with someone she fell in love in love with 40 years ago in Paris. Or maybe she’s secretly a fairy queen, surreptitiously enjoying an afternoon with us ordinary mortals.
But I’m not just observing and writing about what she looks like. I’m also watching how she sits next to a woman she doesn’t appear to know, and how she tries to prevent their thighs from touching. Maybe she’s shy? Maybe a fairy queen will somehow be tainted by human touch? I’m paying attention to how she squints when the sun hits her eyes and how the light changes the look of the deep wrinkles edged into her forehead, chin, and cheeks. I’m watching how she watches various people getting on and off the bus.
Maybe she’s looking for the white elf, enemy of fairies everywhere? Maybe she’s not so sure she wants to reunite with her lost love?
Oh, what a difference 20 years makes.
I wrote my first novel in 1993 on a heavy, dedicated word processor. There was no way I could write anywhere but my office/bedroom where the machine sat. I spent every evening for a year typing out two pages a night and revising the pages I’d written the evening before. To top it all off, it was a basement apartment. I really didn’t get much sunlight that year. I was lonely. Writing was not fun.
There are loads of reasons why that novel was never published. One is that, as a 23-year-old, I had a lot of maturing and learning to do before I could write a truly good book. (Yes, there are great 23-year-old novelists out there. I wasn’t one of them.) Another reason is that the technology to combine my extrovert nature with my love of writing did not exist yet.
In a quiet environment, the slightest paper rustle distracts me. When it’s noisy, I can focus on my own thoughts. When I am with people, I get energized and jazzed. I put that energy into my fiction. My characters come to life, and I treat them with the respect and joy that they deserve. I never get writer’s block when I’m writing in the world. When I am isolated, like I was in 1993, writing becomes drudgery. Drudgery does not make for good writing.
After that first novel, I did write one more book and numerous short stories. Some were published. Some won awards, but I felt fiction writing was not for me. I didn’t like spending that much time alone and eased over to newspapers, where I could talk to people every day and then write. I gave up a lifelong dream of being a novelist because I write best in the company of others.
Like many newspaper reporters, I hung on for as long as I could, but left the industry a couple of years ago.
In 2014, I reluctantly came back to fiction writing. As we wrote The Time Slip Girl, I slowly discovered that modern technology meant I could write just about anywhere. And I did. Writing could be fun, social, and joyous. I got back my dream.
Writing. It’s not just for introverts anymore. It’s for extroverts, too, just like me.